I’m from four generations of city dwellers, a rarity. Not a farmer among us. Despite having eventually landed on the central Illinois prairie, we can trace our soil-free urban ancestry back to the 1840s, on both sides, in a family stretching from Stockholm to Dublin to Piraeus.
So how does a city girl come at gardening? Not honestly– my mother once hired a landscaper who was into pine trees. Fortunately we couldn’t afford the 14 firs he wanted to put in on our quarter acre (which we didn’t know at the time get 100 feet tall). Cooler heads prevailed and we ended up with a gorgeous 8-foot tall hedge of mixed flowering shrubs and two decks enclosed by small trees and low bushes. I don’t think that woman ever planted a flower in her life.
So— flowers or vegetables? Flowers are pretty, but when I started I kept putting the floppy ones in the back, where they fell over on the ones that didn’t bloom until fall, except the floppy ones had deprived them of sun so they died. Annuals are pretty— they bloom for months! How hard can it be to plant 20 flats? Every year? I know! Prairie natives. Let’s put some Queen Anne’s Lace here, and some wild phlox, and how about mint! And loosestrife. Now, how do I get rid of it…
We started vegetables slowly and safely— tomatoes. When that went well, we tried green peppers, and then of course we needed oregano. How about salad? Beans and peas and carrots. Now I had to stop planting flats of annuals and get serious about a perennial garden, because there are only so many hours in the day. Before we knew it we were growing 6 months worth of vegetables, but had only 3 months worth of storage space.
It only took twenty years, but I think I have it figured it out— flower border, herb plot, patio, vegetables. The flowers are hard to start, but then they take care of themselves. The vegetables are easy to start, but need care all season. The herbs just deal.
originally published on the Mahlzeit blog, 7/26/2009